By Tim Letcher
SEC Digital Network
Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy enters his seventh season in Oxford with high hopes for his Rebels. Four starters return from last year’s team, which finished 20-14 and made an appearance in the NIT.
Kennedy and his Rebels would like nothing more than to take the next step this season. In his six seasons at the helm of the Ole Miss program, Kennedy has gotten the Rebels to the NIT five times, including NIT semifinal appearances in 2008 and 2010. However, an NCAA Tournament bid has not happened. In fact, Ole Miss has not been to the NCAA Tournament since 2002.
The goal of reaching the Big Dance may seem like a high bar to reach for a program that has only made six NCAA Tournament appearances ever. But the experience that Ole Miss returns should allow them to at least be in the conversation when the tournament selections are made.
Kennedy is already the Ole Miss career leader in postseason victories with seven. However, all of those wins have come in the NIT. Kennedy is ready to add some NCAA Tournament wins to his Ole Miss ledger, and he hopes this is the team that can do just that.
“This is the first time I’ve returned three seniors that are all returning starters – two of which are fifth-year guys – in Murphy (Holloway), who spent one year at South Carolina, and Nick (Williams), who transferred from Indiana,” Kennedy told the official Ole Miss web site. “We probably have the most experienced front line in the SEC, when you talk about Murphy, Reggie (Buckner) and Nick, who plays the majority of his time at the small forward position.”
Holloway, a senior forward is the top returning player. The 6-7 Holloway, who was named second-team All-SEC last season, averaged 11.2 points and a team-high nine rebounds per contest for the 2012 Rebels. He is currently ninth on the Ole Miss career rebounding list with 743.
Joining Holloway in the frontcourt is Buckner, a senior forward. The 6-9 Buckner averaged 6.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.2 blocked shots per game as a junior last season. Buckner is Ole Miss’ career leader in blocked shots with 228, which also makes him 16th on the SEC career list.
Both starting guards return for Ole Miss. Jarvis Summers, a 6-3 sophomore, averaged 10.4 points and 3.4 assists last year. And Nick Williams, a 6-4 senior, averaged 10.1 points and 3.4 rebounds per game.
The quartet of Holloway, Buckner, Summers and Williams started a combined 117 games last season, with none of them missing more than four starts. That experience bodes well for the 2013 Rebels.
Ole Miss will also have some returning depth this season. Guard LaDarius White returns after a solid freshman year, including a 25-point performance in the NIT loss to Illinois State. White, listed at 6-6, averaged 5.4 points per game in 22 outings last season, but saw that scoring average jump to 14.6 points per game over the last six games of last season.
Also returning are center Demarco Cox, a 6-9 junior, and Aaron Jones, a 6-9 sophomore.
Kennedy also signed a talented recruiting class that includes four freshmen and two junior college transfers.
One of the junior college transfers is Marshall Henderson, who was last year’s National Junior College Player of the Year. Henderson, a 6-2 guard, averaged 19.6 points per game while leading South Plains College to a 36-0 record and a junior college national championship.
“Marshall Henderson was the Junior College Player of the Year and you expect him to be able to come in a little bit older, wiser and stronger,” Kennedy told the official Ole Miss web site. “I’m really excited about the fact that he’s played in D-I games and made shots against Division One people. He averaged close to 13 points per game at Utah. He’s a guy that we expect to make the transition to SEC play more readily.”
Jason Carter, a 6-8 junior forward, is the other junior college transfer. Carter originally signed with Alabama out of high school.
Among the freshmen, Martavious Newby will be counted on heavily this season. Newby, a 6-3 guard, was Tennessee’s Class A Mr. Basketball as a senior at Booker T. Washington High School in Memphis. He averaged 23.1 points and 7.2 rebounds as a senior.
Also joining the freshmen class are Derrick Millinghaus, a 5-10 guard; Anthony Perez, a 6-9 forward; and Terry Brutus, a 6-6 forward.
Millinghaus is already drawing high praise from his coach. “He’s got a little Devan Downey burst to him,” Kennedy told the SEC Digital Network’s Chris Dortch, comparing the Rebel freshman to the former South Carolina guard. “He’s strong and quick and can score.”
The Rebels open the season against 2012 NCAA Tournament participant Mississippi Valley State on Friday in Oxford. Ole Miss opens the season with six straight games at Tad Smith Coliseum, culminating with the SEC/Big East Challenge matchup against Rutgers.
The Rebels will be in Hawaii for Christmas this season, playing in the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu. Ole Miss opens the event against Indiana State on December 22.
Highlights of the Rebels’ conference schedule include a home game against defending national champion Kentucky on January 29, and first-ever SEC contests at Missouri (February 9) and Texas A&M (February 13).
If the talent and experience comes together for Kennedy and the Rebels, they could very well hear their name called for the NCAA Tournament on Selection Sunday.